A Residual Risk Remains
Markus Waldner, FIS race director, talks to the Saslong editorial staff about the level of safety standards at World Cup races and about the importance of good course preparation.
Mr Waldner, safety at ski races is currently on everyone's minds. How safe can a World Cup race be?
Look, I can say with a clear conscience that the highest safety standards are currently being met at the World Cup races. Safety is a very complex concept, which in addition to the nets, includes several factors, such as course preparation. What constitutes the safest course would be a wide track with a lot of safety and crash spaces, something we unfortunately don’t always have. Especially the older World Cup courses are tighter and narrower. If we homologate new slopes today, they must have a minimum width of sixty meters. In some cases, the older World Cup tracks have sections that are barely twenty meters wide.
Is the standard the same for all World Cup tracks?
For the most part, yes. There are several companies that make the nets and the quality can sometimes vary slightly. But all of them have been awarded certificates and are striving to improve constantly. However, it also matters how the nets are set up. In this regard, I’m very critical and vocal, watching every little thing with eagle eyes. I will not start a race before I think that everything is perfect.
But some residual risk always remains, doesn’t it?
Yes, of course. Skiing is a speed sport, so you can never guarantee a 100% safety. The two accidents recently prove this. We have learned from this and try to make the slopes as safe as possible for the athletes. We also pay attention to the warm-up tracks on which the racers can warm up before the race. These do not have the same safety standards as a race track. I, together with the coaches, decide how to proceed from race to race. If a warm-up track does not seem to be safe, because it is surrounded by a bunch of trees, for example, the racers have to warm up on the World Cup track - or "just" do a giant slalom training. We consciously try to avoid any risks here. One can also diffuse a track at least to some extent with a little know-how and foresight - for example with the right course setting.
Why can the same safety standard of racetracks not be guaranteed on warm-up or training courses?
Quite simply because it is not possible for technical, logistical and financial reasons. The high safety that a World Cup race has to offer costs hundreds of thousands of Euros and hundreds of people who need to prepare the fences and slopes beforehand. A perfectly running emergency rescue strategy is required, too? Yes and no. Unfortunately that is not quite the case. Emergency rescue works much better in Europe than in America. At the races in Val Gardena/Gröden, Kitzbühel, Wengen and meanwhile also Kvitfjell, a doctor and a helicopter can be there within minutes after an accident. In Kitzbühel we even had three helicopters in three crashes during a race. This is absolute top level, just the way I like it. Unfortunately, in the U.S.A. and Canada, other laws apply that are not always to our satisfaction. But we are working to make sure everything is done for the safety of the athletes. But as I said, a residual risk always remains - on the Saslong as well as on the Streif.